Levy's new book provides a non-technical perspective on successfully adopting tools in your practice
Colin Levy is a US-based legal tech expert and corporate lawyer. He is currently the director of legal for Malbek, a leading contract management company. He has served in numerous legal roles for companies in the technology industry for over a decade and is a legal tech thought leader with a large online following.
His recent book is The Legal Tech Ecosystem: Innovation, Advancement & the Future of Law Practice. For our CL Talk podcast, we spoke to Levy about how lawyers who are not tech-savvy should approach legal tech.
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Below is an edited summary of the conversation.
How do you define legal tech?
Legal tech has a variety of definitions. However, I see it as technologies directed at improving the delivery of legal services and aligning the delivery with those most in need of such legal help.
For lawyers who hate tech, why should they care about it?
It starts with the understanding that technology isn't going anywhere and continues to advance. It also has no agenda, meaning it's not out to induce fear or cause you anxiety purposely. It also doesn't care whether you like it or not. It's here, continuing to play a more significant role in our professional and personal lives.
Adaptation is required to remain valuable or relevant to those looking for your help. Likely, the clients you are working with or will be working with will be more tech-savvy than you and aware of existing technologies, and they expect that you will be using some technologies in your practice. Otherwise, they'll likely think, “Well, why is this person not using tech? What is going on with them? Perhaps I'm going to seek help elsewhere.”
What are the most significant mistakes for lawyers deciding what tech to use?
The biggest mistake is the shiny key syndrome, meaning that they tend to be attracted to whatever is the latest and greatest technology out there without giving thought to exactly why.
You need to understand your problem before you search for a solution. The last thing you want is to have a solution in search of a problem.
This can manifest in several ways, including being attracted to the shiny new tech or going off a friend’s recommendation. Your friend's situation will likely differ from yours, which means you need to understand your situation and needs and let that define your search and how you evaluate tools. There is a lot out there; getting overwhelmed and confused is easy.
How lawyers tackle these questions would vary greatly depending on their firm's size or whether they are in-house.
Your clients may be diverse if you're a solo or small law firm. For a big law firm, you may have a lot of very sophisticated clients, but all are focused on a specific area of law. All those different nuances can help inform how you look at technologies.
The good news is there are technology solutions out there for any lawyer. It's just a matter of understanding your situation. For example, if you're a solo law firm, perhaps one of the most significant pain points is administration, billing, invoicing, intake, etc. There are plenty of solutions out there that can help with that. One of the most well-known is the Canadian tech company Clio, which can easily handle those challenges and make it much easier and faster.
Focus on your pain points. Tech also varies in comfortability; some tools require minimal setup and tech savviness, and others require more.
There's no need to fear tech. It should augment your existing practice and help you be more productive and valuable for those seeking your help.
Your book examines the top myths impeding tech implementation. One of the big ones is mixing up legal tech with artificial intelligence. What is the difference?
The challenge is that artificial intelligence has embedded itself into several legal technology solutions. However, artificial intelligence is a broad term encompassing many different things, not all of which are legal tech solutions. Legal tech comprises a small segment of artificial intelligence.
Some legal tech solutions don't use artificial intelligence much because there's no need, for example, to automate document creation. So, it's important to distinguish between AI and legal tech, even though they are growing more integrated.
What are the first steps lawyers should take if they feel overwhelmed with legal tech choices?
Instead of looking at the landscape of what's out there, start by answering why you are looking for a legal tech solution.
Is it because you have a specific pain point, or you're investigating a potential new way of doing something? Or are you just curious about the space and learning more? Answering that question is an excellent way to reduce the potential to be overwhelmed.
There are also plenty of resources that can help distinguish between the substance and noise. Legaltech Hub, for example, is an excellent website with vendors and various resources.
Another good resource would be my book on the legal tech ecosystem, intended to be a very accessible, non-technical introduction to legal tech. It features stories about creating tools from those working in this space, including from former or current lawyers.
You also stress in your book that legal tech is an ecosystem. What does that mean?
Like in any ecosystem, different elements are interdependent and impact one another. Legal tech is no different; it involves technology but also affects people, processes and businesses that depend on one another. Technology impacts how people work, and people work differently, which affects business operations. We've seen that writ large with the rise of generative artificial intelligence.
In other words, technology by itself is nice, but its value comes from those who use it and is further enhanced by being integrated into a process.
We have all had that experience buying technology that works well but soon goes out of date. How can lawyers navigate that frustration?
It comes from a couple of different places. One is understanding that technology continues to advance. So, any existing tool you use will likely evolve as the technology evolves, so you need to adapt and be open to learning and experimentation.
Secondly, the concepts underlying these technologies have not changed. Before looking at tools, you should understand concepts like automation and data analysis because knowing how they work is essential. That can also make it less intimidating to understand.
The bottom line is context matters, as does being open to adaptation and, to some degree, being uncomfortable because things change and the world is dynamic. We need to accommodate and be accustomed to that level of change.
How should lawyers decide between using established software such as Microsoft products or small, more custom solutions?
If you're looking to solve a specific problem, e.g., an administrative issue like intake, creation of documents, or billing, looking at a more legal-specific tool makes more sense. For help with various areas with a broader application, it probably makes sense to look at the offerings of some of the more prominent tech companies.
Legal tech is also becoming a space with platforms offering various tools within one interface. Therefore, it's essential to consider your existing tech stack and how these tools could fit into that. If you don't have one, it may make sense to go for a platform-type approach that can have a built-in tech stack that all works well together.
Your book tackles some big-picture ideas in tech, like web 3.0 and techno-optimism, i.e. philosophical ideas about where tech is moving. What is the future of legal tech?
I'm not very good at predicting. But I don't think it's farfetched to say that the most successful lawyers will be those who can best use data analytics, experiment and learn from using tech. They don't necessarily have to be wholly tech-savvy or love tech, but they must be open to learning and experimentation.
The world is becoming even more intertwined with the tech world. The most successful will be those who can best navigate that relationship. That starts with being comfortable learning about technologies and understanding their benefits and limitations.
How did you learn to love legal tech?
I didn't always love technology and feared it many years ago. I overcame that and learned more by reaching out to people doing things in the space and having quick conversations. It helps build relationships, and people want to share what they're up to. It's a great way to learn about what's going on and the challenges that exist in a non-intimidating way.